I grew up in a family where weather was an accompaniment to adventures, never a factor in their existence. Only when the rain was spirit level horizontal, and the gale hurtling around could it be suggested that perhaps we didn’t really fancy a walk, and even then it would probably have had to be winter. You were planning a walk and it was raining, you put on your waterproofs; you’d thought about going swimming, well you were going to get wet anyway; and if it happened to rain while you were already at the beach you’d never think of heading home but rig up a tent from driftwood and beach towels and weather out the storm.
It’s left me with a resiliance to getting wet that served me well when I did DofE, and which I think I may be instilling in our children because when we had to scarper from home to allow for some viewings and I suggested a picnic, all three children looked at me, at the gloom of a thundery sky then gathering outside the window, and brightly declared it to be the best plan anyone had had all week.
And so with a swift detour to the supermarket for the makings of a picnic and new wellies for Kitty whose feet (now an adult 2) seem to grow every time I look away, we found ourselves drawing in to Compton Verney’s carpark as the first drops of rain plopped onto the windscreen and trickled lazily down the bonnet. For one moment I seriously considered having the picnic in the car, but they were all far too excited about the prospect of proper outdoor picnics to be in any way worried about something so trivial as rain.
The gallery itself is closed over the winter and as there was unlikely to be much about in the water for pond dipping we decided to skip the potential to get the children soaked through in favour of tackling the orienteering course. Given the number of times we’ve been over the years I was surprised we’d never done it before, but little legs only have so many steps in them so it’s probably seemed like too much on top of the pond dipping and visiting the house. Kitty loved it; she took charge of the map and pencil and was off searching for posts and writing in the letters and her enthusiasm for the whole concept stayed strong all the way to the end, so at some point we’re going to need to go back to do the really long version.
The course starts easily enough, with lots of markers within a very short space of time, and we had seven letters entered on our map before we stopped for lunch on a damp bench underneath the drippy shade of two deciduous trees. At which point the rain, which had eased when we started walking, decided to revisit the situation. But we had waterproofs and sausage rolls and cartons of apple juice and the rain didn’t matter. Somehow that feeling of doing something against the ordinary, something slightly crazy, adds excitement to a fairly mundane picnic. Dodging rain drops made it feel like we were on an adventure, not merely picnicking and the giggles became infectious as Kitty and Elma acted out a sausage roll dance while Pip and I applauded curiously.
Despite extensive explanations I’m not certain that Pip or Elma really got the point of orienteering, but they very much got the point of chocolate biscuits (bribery and corruption will get you everywhere) and puddles. While Kitty headed off in search of the next marker, they tracked down every dip and every dimple that might possibly have water in it, to make sure that when they’d finished there wasn’t a drop that had not been redistributed.
They navigated a treacherously squelchy puddle in the verge with only muddy knees to show for it (on a not unrelated point, when did welly boots start being so short?) and so when Pip ran ahead to a wide mischievously serene example further up the drive I wasn’t anticipating any problems. More fool me.
Two steps in he lost his footing and plunged down, arms outstretched, coming to rest tummy down into the deepest part. I scooped him up in seconds but the damage was done, and before us stood one very unhappy little boy loudly protesting the uncomfortableness of his wet trousers while muddy water trickled down his face. We were at almost the furthest point of the walk and if we walked back to the car and the spare clothes then my chances of persuading Pip and Elma all the way back out again to finish the route were slim to non existent, which in turn would have left Kitty bereft of half of her letters.
There was one thing we had to try before we gave in, and with an impending sense of cold and damp, I lifted Pip onto my shoulders (please note the change of colour of his trousers!). The puddle had soaked all the way up the inside of his trousers and as he settled around me the water hit warm skin as rivulets ran down the back of my neck. It got better when we both warmed up, and Pip decided that this was a perfectly acceptable substitute for dry trousers and proceeded to direct the expedition from on high.
The final leg took us out into the park, and then back under the avenue of enormous Wellingtonia trees to finish up at the Ice House.
A little knowledge of Compton Verney history solved the anagram for us and Kitty was thrilled to have it confirmed right. All the way home she talked about the orienteering and Pip and Elma talked about how he fell over in the puddle; a memorable adventure, if not for quite the reasons I’d planned.